I grabbed the stack of Christmas magazines from the room and put them on the steps, to take upstairs to be packed. Family left this morning and my house is a mess – strewn with crumbs, spills, nicks and dings. As I heaved the magazines across the house, I felt wistful for all the Christmas crafts I didn’t do, all the recipes I didn’t try. Those glossy pages spoke of the promises I had made December 1st – all the things I had hopes to do. ‘Maybe next year,’ I thought.
Every year, I say, “maybe next year.”
But this year wasn’t different.
Two weeks ago I was home alone hot, exhausted, scrubbing the bathroom tiles with some foul-smelling heavy duty cleaner. It was late. Down the street, my new neighbors wassailed and drank and sang at a holiday party. Down the state, my husband and my sons were spending the night with family, celebrating ballets and Nutcrackers. Yet I was alone. Behind, stressed, and not at all focused on the Christmas spirit. I had the horribly uninspiring spirit of Get It Done.
While on my knees, not praying to the reason for the season but getting high on noxious fumes, I started to think how Christmas was going.
I felt overwhelmed, I felt like the tasks kept coming faster than I could get to them. I felt like I was failing to have the Christmas season I had hoped for.
At church, I had to take a step back from our outreach project, despite my deep-driven desire to give back, simply because it felt like I hadn’t seen my own sons in days. I didn’t give back this holiday season like I wanted; I could barely be there for my boys.
This year wasn’t a different year. Despite saying “no,” and despite promising to go slower and not commit to as much, there were at least three events or tasks on our calendar every day and a To Do list that required a three-ringed binder. School events piled up, family obligations grew and grew, and shopping became hard as shipping was slow and gifts were lost.
I didn’t have nights snuggled up on my couch with spiked eggnog watching my tree sparkle. I didn’t play board games with my kids underneath the stockings hung with care.
Instead, I baked cookies for the class party at 11 at night and wrapped gifts while watching football. I ran about worried how I was possibly going to get it all done, how I could come through on all my obligations so no one would be let down. I didn’t want to fail anyone else – but was I failing myself in the meantime?
I felt I was failing at Christmas somehow.
As the family laughter is now just an echo in our house and I slowly start to collect the holiday trinkets, to be packed and stored sometime January 1st, I also feel full and successful.
The other day, my kids ran down the stairs and were amazed that Santa had given them the exact toy that they asked for. My 33-year-old brother sat at the dinner table Christmas night and said, “I love Christmas.” I watched family fights happen, my one year old niece’s cookie crumbs gleefully trailed on the rug behind her, puzzles pored over, and new board games learned. My kitchen was a greasy oily mess full of good cooking and lots of wine.
We all hugged each other tightly, laughed over something that had happened during the week, and they left with smiles and sore throats.
Of course, we are all exhausted today, totally spent. My kids have a Christmas hangover from no sleeping and far too many sugar cookies – it will take them weeks to get back to normal. But they will recover and in the meantime they will remember jumping on their uncle, who slept on the floor, first thing in the morning. They will remember cheese platters and Christmas Eve candlelight services.
And so as I sit here today with a hot cup of tea, eating a piece of shortbread that reminds me of Christmases past from my childhood, I reflect and understand: I didn’t fail at all.
Christmas WAS magical. It was full of hope, and shiny things, and joy, and good food to eat, and wonder. It is just that, as a mom, it is I who create it now instead of receive it. I create the magic for others to remember.
And yes, that is exhausting. It takes a toll on me and I have moments of being resentful. Occasionally all of this giving to others over the entire month drives me to a pity party. That, my friends, is the worst kind of holiday party to be at.
Then I see the look on my kids’ faces as we creep up to take our turn with Santa, I glow as I watch them perform “Feliz Navidad” at school, and I tear up as I see them recite lines they have practiced in the church Christmas pageant.
When it is all over, I am scarily aware that in a few decades, decades that will go faster than a Hunger Games movie, I will miss this. I will miss the activity, noise, chaos, and clatter. Someday I will miss how much I was needed, and how much I was able to give. Someday I will be along for the ride again, receiving the hard work of someone else, and I will long for the days when I was able to create the magic for others.
Maybe, in the end, I didn’t fail at Christmas. Maybe I am just in a place in life where Christmas, no matter what I do, won’t be slow and simple. Honestly, as this shortbread melts in my mouth and our tree sits towering over opened gifts, I am not sure I would have it any other way.
I felt magic this Christmas. Just not the kind I thought.
I felt the magic that comes from giving so entirely of yourself to make others around you have the holiday of their dreams.
I hope you all had a happy (non-simple) holiday, too.